I wonder who started it.
The legend, I mean.
Like, was it a joke between friends? Or a prank the upperclassmen played on the newbies? Or bad advice that just happened to work?
Either way, the legend isn’t the beginning. The beginning is love. The beginning is a courting couple who’d make their way to the tree with the winding branches. They called it, “the lover’s tree.” Even now, decades later, I can hear the giggles that undoubtedly came from beneath that tree. It was a place of playfulness and hope and all the feelings that come with a school crush.
The lover’s tree.
Then somewhere along the way, someone convinced everyone that if a virgin ate of the tree’s fruit and worshipped the goddess Damdami Mai, they’d lose their virginity within six months. And so it became,
The virgin’s tree.
Since the early 80s, Delhi students at Hindu college “have been hosting a puja (Hindu ritualistic worship) at the tree called the ‘Virgin Tree’ or simply the ‘V-Tree’.” This worship entails condom decor, food offerings, dances, and a “hymn in praise of the hot and sexy goddess.”
This year, puja participants found themselves at odds with classmates who called for the ritual to be banned. These opposers, led by 20-year old Aashi Datta, claimed that “legacy” and “tradition” alone were not reason enough to continue engaging in such a “patriarchal and misogynistic practice.” They argue that the provocative photographs of women, the objectifying lyrics of the annual hymn, and the fact that less than 5% of the attendees are women all support the claim that the virgin tree celebration is a demeaning and oversexualization of women.
And Datta wants it gone.
However, virgin tree supporters, forefronted by 19-year old Teli Venkatesh, accuses Datta of “politicis[ing] a college event” that most consider to be “harmless fun.” It’s also considered as educational. As the dozens of condoms hanging from the tree, are meant to “spread awareness about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).” and the importance of protection. Nonetheless, Venkatesh agrees that making modifications to the rituals would create a more inclusive festival. So they added pride flags as a tribute to the LGBT community, replaced the usual lewd images with ones of long-term married couples, and even made changes to the hymn lyrics so that it’d be “less descriptive of the female body.”
But Datta wants it gone. And Venkatesh has budged as far as he’ll go. This is where the “two warring sides” found themselves on Tuesday afternoon during a meeting meant to bring compromise. They were joined by professor PK Vijayan, who’d attended Hindu back when the celebrations first began. Vijayan recognized and validated the discomfort of the women regarding the tree and its implications. Then he criticized their “puritanical idea” to completely ban the event, proposing they “take it over and redesign it” instead.
And so, this leaves the question: can tainted trees be taken back to their pure roots? Or do we cut it all down and plant a garden?